We look at the guidance provided by the SRA in their most recent research around improving measures for better information for clients in the legal services market.
There were 870,000 property transactions in the UK last year, for some consumers, this will have been their first interaction with a law firm. This presents a huge business development opportunity for law firms to make a lasting first impression.
Correlate this with the fact that almost 20% of complaints, over 7,500 in number, to the Legal Ombudsman last year were around hidden costs, failure to follow instructions or provide adequate advice or background information by the lawyer and it’s clear to see that even with the recent improved measures on transparency and pricing from regulatory bodies, there’s still more work to be done. So when did it become apparent that regulation could help with improving the client journey and where were the main issues?
Beginning in 2014, the ‘Looking to the Future’ programme started to ensure that solicitors and law firms were regulated in the right way. This was intended as a much more human focus on providing legal services and removing the bureaucratic constraints which hindered law firms in their pursuit to deliver the services needed by their clients. Key to improving this was actually understanding what the needs and requirements of the public were and what they would want to know when choosing their legal advisors.
Back in 2016, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) report commissioned to define these requirements, found that a lack of clear information is making it difficult for the public and small businesses to access legal services. Only one in ten people at that time, were using a regulated professional when they had a legal problem, and it was becoming more difficult for potential clients to make informed choices. This was having a clear impact on competitiveness in the sector and reducing real access to justice.
In September 2017, the SRA issued a consultation paper, Better information, more choice, which proposed making information about law firms, the services they offer, the prices they charge, the complaints they receive and the protections they have in place more easily accessible. In addition to their baseline research, they also commissioned two pieces of key research, one of which was focused on Price Transparency in the Conveyancing Market, published in January 2018. This covered all aspects of pricing models and the availability of pricing to consumers to allow them to make informed choices when choosing a legal adviser. This was also coupled with an online test of pricing transparency to over 1,000 users of legal services across 15 different areas of law.
The research looked specifically about their awareness and understanding of their regulatory protection and also what information they felt they needed to help them to make their decisions. This project was also in collaboration with the Legal Ombudsman.
Katrina Sporle, Property Ombudsman commented “As Ombudsman, I continue to see rising numbers of complaints year on year when it comes to the buying and selling of houses. Complaints are many and varied and each will have a unique set of circumstances which we investigate prior to adjudication. Accurate, reliable, relevant information is needed before a transactional decision is made by a prospective purchaser. Everyone involved in the sector needs to collaborate to make that a reality.”
A key recommendation of the CMA’s report was for regulators to assess the impact of policies aimed at increasing transparency in the market. The main methods used in this research were randomised controlled trials, which are widely considered as the gold standard for policy evaluation and behaviourally-informed research.
The research produced an in-depth picture of consumer perceptions of legal services, what type of information they look for when choosing legal providers, and most importantly, gathered robust evidence regarding how SRA reforms can help firms to win more clients, and help consumers to make more informed choices.
Some of the key findings of the research were:
• When choosing a legal services provider, most people (85%) want information before making their decision, usually relating to price (53%) and quality (37%). 27% of respondents wanted information on regulatory protections.
• Over half (57%) of respondents thought that all legal services providers were regulated, not always the case. Of those who have used a regulated provider in the past:
• 24% are aware of the SRA Compensation Fund.
• 36% are aware their provider is insured.
• 41% are aware of the Legal Ombudsman.
•Despite this, when they were provided with clear information regarding regulatory protections:
• People’s awareness increased.
• They engaged with it and used it to make decisions.
• In general, people stated that they wanted more information on price, the quality of the service, and the provider’s regulatory protections.
• In one of the trials, firms that used an SRA regulated logo were significantly more likely to be selected by consumers (14% increase), providing a commercial benefit for firms using the logo.
• 79% of consumers said they felt more comfortable selecting providers that had a logo.
• 86% of consumers felt that it would be useful to be able to click on the logo to find more information on the firm’s protections.
• Finally, when people were given access to information on price and protections, they made informed decisions.People were willing to trade off between the type of provider, and their associated regulatory protections, and the cost of the service.
• 54% of participants said that they would be willing to pay more to have more regulatory protections.
• The research showed that protections and price are both important, and people do not simply choose the cheapest option.
From a conveyancing perspective, a lot has been learnt from the research and guidance available, with law firms looking to technology to help with the pressing issues that have been highlighted. According to the latest LPM Legal IT Landscapes report law firms are utilising technology to facilitate automation, CRM and client-facing tech such as client portals which are predicted to have the most impact on the client journey over the next 12 months. Firms that don’t adapt to new technologies are likely to separate from those that do, recognising that changes in structure and culture may also be needed to remain competitive in the market.
Access to the full SRA report can be found here:
An annex to the report can be found here: